My Century Home Page
on Friday 3rd September 1999
name is Oliver Berlau. And I was in East Berlin on the night of
the 9th of November 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. It was rather
weird to live in a divided country. We couldn't go to West Germany.
But of course we could watch West German television and listen to
West German radio stations. We knew more or less what was going
on. In the months before the Wall came down, there were many people
who tried to escape to the West who were desperate. And there were
demonstrations in some East German cities - especially in Leipzig.
Everybody noticed something would have to happen, but nobody expected
a complete change. I mean, it was a mistake. They didn't really
plan to open the Wall.
On the 9th of November, I was sitting in my flat, watching television,
as I had done on the days before. And, all of a sudden, I saw the
East Berlin party chief, Gunther Shabowsky, announcing "travel freedom"
- which, in my book, meant: "Oh yes, I can go to the police, ask
for an exit visa, and perhaps in three or four weeks' time I can
go to West Germany to see my uncle and aunt." One of the reporters
asked: from when is this valid? And he didn't have the information.
And he just said: "As I understand it - from now". It was about
ten minutes' walk from my flat to the Berlin Wall. And people were
running about. And at first I thought: "Perhaps it is another demonstration".
But people were too jubilant, too happy. And then I saw it. And
I saw the people. And, after two or three hours, there were two
or three or four thousand of them. And there were about twenty border
guards there. And people were getting angry. "Don't you watch television?
Didn't you see Gunther Shabowsky? He told us we could travel. So
let us through!" And this lieutenant - I suppose he was - they had
at the checkpoint - he said; "No, I don't want to get killed by
four thousand people. I have to let them through. I can't use machine-guns
on them." And, once that checkpoint was gone, they had reached the
point of no return.
I had never travelled to West Berlin. It was the very first western
city I ever saw in my life. And I was really excited. I was greeted
by loads of commercials (ie advertisements). And I noticed the lights.
There were many, many lights. The first thing I did, I walked into
a bookshop. And I bought "1984", by George Orwell. I couldn't get
it in East Germany, of course. It was five marks. And, when the
shop assistant noticed I was East German, I got it for four marks.
An elderly man from West Berlin gave me a big hug, and asked me
if I had been waiting, like him, for 28 years for this day to come.
I didn't think, in the beginning, that the end of the Wall would
mark the end of East Germany - at least not within a year. I think
some people in East Germany were horrified, were afraid. Many people,
I think, were insecure. They didn't know what was going to happen.
East Germany was a police state, but many people felt secure in
it, in a certain way. I must say, I noticed something very strange.
I crossed into West Berlin. It was very exciting. It was thrilling.
And the moment I crossed back into East Berlin, I felt on safe ground
again. And I think that must have happened to many East Germans,
not only to me. So the end of the East German state was not necessarily
wanted by everybody. I think a majority of the people wanted it
- yes. But not everybody. For me personally, the main consequence
was simply the possibility to leave the country and travel freely,
find a wife from another country - my wife is from Spain. I couldn't
have imagined all that before the Wall came down. For me, it was
a great opportunity. The then Mayor of West Berlin, Walter Momper,
said: "Those who slept during this night, and didn't notice what
was going on, will regret it for the rest of their lives".
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